May 17, 2018

Pokémon Let's Go push the genwun nostalgia fan-service hype-train to terminal velocity.

That title escalated quickly... sorry about that.

Like everyone else, I had my own spectrum of expectations as to what kind of games might be coming next for the core series of the franchise.

At the top there is my wish for seeing another initially detached fresh region/generation similar to Black&White.

Yes, I figure it to be an unlikely, unrealistic possibility, because of how the last 2 generations (XY, Sun&Moon) were pretty much playing it safe, twice in a row.
They had new regions like usual (granted, Alola felt way better thought through and properly developed and explored, not to mention quite exotic, despite coming out directly after ORAS) and while there was new PKMN, they were very much of the "complementary" type. Meaning that the additions are mostly fancy type combinations on creatures that show up every other route if you keep looking longer than necessary, while their number (~70ish) is almost rivaled by the other half of the new designs that tend to be a twist on older PKMN (cross-gen evolutions in gen II and IV, Mega evolutions throughout VI, and Alola formes in VII), while the common grass patches and caves are very much filled by familiar faces spiced up with old fan favourites in a huge regional dex.

I used to like pointing out how that was an alternating pattern, with the odd-numbered generations being fresh ones, while the even-numbered generations complemented and built on what came before them. That's why seeing this happen twice in a row started to make me worry that we might never see another "Black&White" kind of generation.

Which was honestly at least to me the closest they have gotten to recreating the original magical experience of playing a Pokémon game for the first time (with an accumulation of 4 generations of game mechanic improvements and without feeling super dated).
It's quite ironic that a huge part of the Fandom felt like Generation V was the least interesting one, when it was the only one that tried to go to the roots so to speak, while being surrounded by fizzed up apple juice bottles.

Somewhere in the middle expectation of more of the same balanced mix of new and old.

Continuing with another generation close to the beats of XY and SM would have been the safe way to move forward, as it add blends together a bit of everything, new toys, popular faces and some new spin on classic designs, while not focusing on any one aspect in particular.

I would be perfectly fine with this option, if the developers feel like it's what is needed to keep the franchise healthy in these times, especially with the potentially bumpy transition over to the Switch.

And then there are the (personally) less exciting nostalgia-focused options.

That would include any kind of remake, with the most popular fan suggestions/demands at the moment of course being a return to Sinnoh or to Kanto, as we haven't been to either of those in a decade (although one could easily argue to prioritize Sinnoh over Kanto simply due to Kanto having been featured in 4 different sets of main games, as well as it always being the most heavily referenced region out of all of them).

It's not that I didn't enjoy the last entry of this kind (ORAS), not at all, I found them as enjoyable as any other main game. Nonetheless, the "remakes" are starting to feel stale and uninspired, when they stick to the originals so much, with the "new" parts being more about details and integrating current gimmicks and fan-service, even though we have seen Black2 and White2 drastically raise the bar for how revisiting old places can be used to make such a surprisingly fresh experience regardless of being released right after the games they were a sequel of. There is no going back after that. A traditional remake will always have a feel of wasted potential if they don't even try to shake it up in some crucial way. Of course it didn't help that in the case of ORAS they went out of their way to pretend Emerald never existed (the single thing I still fail to comprehend out of all the decisions behind these games).

But regardless, I could see myself get really excited about revisiting an old region, under the condition that they really did do something creative with it. A new adventure set 20 years after the original (whether it was a Kanto&Johto or a Sinnoh game) with places somewhat reimagined, expanded, new locations added, the journey going the other way around... heck with how USUM decided to simply introduce 8 completely new PKMN in the middle of a generation like it was no big deal, even sequels like these should have no excuse to not introduce more never-before-seen PKMN native to their region. In Sinnohs case a return of cross-gen evolutions would actually be extremely refreshing to see, and with the introduction of Alola formes, the twists on that idea are something every fan would really love seeing as well, with post-gen-I PKMN that migrated to Kanto-locations and gained Kanto-formes.

Either way, even this option has great potential, it's just that at it is also the option with the biggest potential for being the least exciting one.

Nonetheless, my hopes were high that whatever is to follow, would be steering somewhat away from nostalgia for a bit.

And then this happened:

Registration of domains that imply the following to be new PKMN titles:
  • Pokémon Let's Go! Pikachu
  • Pokémon Let's Go! Eevee
In my 20 years of being a Pokémon Fan, this is the first time that my reaction to revealed titles was anything other than utter excitement and hype. Instead it was a reaction at least partially of concern.

I mean, we are used to PKMN titles consisting of single words representing a colour, a gem or an extremely vague but thematically rich concept, yet here I saw titles that had at not less than three parts that are guaranteed to cause some eye-twitching.
  1. Pikachu. It's no secret that this electric mouse is undeniably the most overmarketed and overrepresented mascot of the franchise, as well as being excrutiatingly overused by the anime, where it has starred in literally a thousand of episodes by now.
  2. Eevee. Quite possibly the most beloved PKMN, that got its popularity without being pushed by the company itself, at least initially, but rather having its family expanded every now and then as a means of fan-service catering to its already steadily deserved appreciation.. although one could argue whether it has gone too far by the time we got to Sylveon.... in light of this however, the official "Eevee Twitter" account that has been selling Eevee as an important mascot itself for the whole year, suddenly in hindsight makes perfect sense... they were probably attempting to get Eevee as close onto a pedestal as possible to be a worthy "counterpart" to Pikachu for this very reason. Of course this is a valid choice when considering that Eevee was a pseudo-starter in the main-game-compatible Gamecube spin-offs before, similar to Pikachu taking the unconventional starter role in the Yellow version.
  3. "Go". /grabs a glass of water.

What could it mean?

So much for the likelihood of steering away from nostalgia for a while.

Clearly, the Pokémon company is going full throttle on employing its most valuable faces and pushing the nostalgia-milking to the extreme with whatever game they are keen on playing here.

It's only natural that the surrounding rumors and speculation all involve Kanto as the most plausible setting for these titles.

After taking this revelation in and giving it some thought, I have one main hypothesis on what is going on.

The most risky times for the franchise are times when Gamefreak is forced to transition to a new piece of hardware. They basically have to rebuild the core of the games from scratch and find a look and feel that needs to feel new while staying true to what the fans are used to.

This time however, we are not just talking about going to a more powerful handheld console. They have to move to an actual home console with the gimmick of "also being a handheld". This isn't just a challenge from the perspective of visuals and style, but also of concepts. Gamefreak has always been trying to make use of whatever features a piece of hardware has to offer. They take the situations into consideration. It makes sense that moving from a more "personal" handheld console to a console that is more often than not shared with multiple family members, especially in case of younger players (and I am honestly curious what the consequences will be... some serious co-op single-console multiplayer features?), would make them consider some fundamental changes to how the games are played.

But the point I was getting at, is that this transition is the biggest this franchise has seen.

And it doesn't help that ever since the "Core Pokémon Switch title" was revealed to be in development, the community has been over-hyping the potential of a Switch game and putting expectations beyond realistic, whether it's by referencing Breath of the Wild, by imagining completely unreasonable changes to the battle system by essentially turning it into Pokkén with an actual adventure, or by bringing up the same old "all the regions"-idea that just falls apart if one tries to dissect its viability from a developmental perspective.

It's gotten to the point where Gamefreak has been feeling so much pressure from so diverse and extraordinary expectations, making it impossible for them to please everyone, that they honestly told us in an interview to not get our hopes high. Which in the bigger context basically means that all they want is to make more Pokémon games, without this sudden pressure to deliver as many completely different revolutionary ideas as the number of fans one decides to give their thoughts and expectations about it.

How does this tie into the reveal?

Simple. Instead of trying to do both, a completely new game AND survive the technical transition, they perhaps realized that it might be a better idea to make the safest and most familiar and nostalgic game in terms of the content, in order to ensure that they can if necessary reinvent the game on a technical level and not fear to experiment and take risky opportunities where they see them.

It's a genius move and one I have been wanting to see for a long time (it bothered me for example how DP had the task of taking us to the DS, while the GS remakes had it all laid out and could focus on the aesthetics, the feel, and had the option of cramming more content into the games than anyone would demand... why not use nostalgia-fueled familiar settings as entry titles for new hardware, in turn getting all the old and new fans to buy the console, which in turn would make the actually new games after that way easier to sell?)

If that's the case, these games can be viewed as a safe bridge into a new era. And that makes me excited for the possibility of the games coming after the ground is set so to speak.

Of course we still basically don't know ANYTHING about these initial Switch games at this point, but even if they end up being uninspired re-remakes merely with a Yellow/eeveelution-pandering twist (which I doubt. I don't think they would seriously go back to Kanto at this point without drastically shaking things up in some way), it makes me curious about what underlying changes are coming with that, that they would require such familiarity to ease us into it.

But what's the deal with "Go"?

My ommition of a comment on this earlier might imply that my opinion about Pokemon Go is so low that the mere possibility of something being a reference to it is not worth making a proper comment on... and well yes, that was at least the initial thought.

However, after proper consideration, it's actually pure genius.

You see, Pokémon Go showed the world that there is a bigger audience for Pokémon that for all kinds of reasons simply isn't playing the current games.

Of course with Pokémon Go being what it is, and being handled poorly by the outsider developer that Pokémon decided to put trust in for this cooperation.. it went pretty much downhill after the huge initial boom.

I believe that the PKMN Company and Gamefreak saw this, and afterwards kicked themselves for letting someone else waste a huge portion of potential fans that could have returned to the core series if done properly.

So what they may be attempting to do now, is to grab the "Go" symbol and rebuild its image, in order to use its potential themselves.

In other words: They are attempting to do what Pokémon Go promised and failed to do.

Bringing everyone that has ever had any interest for Pokémon, back together, to the same level, on the fancy console with exploding popularity that is finally making Nintendo look cool again.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that this might be exactly the boost the franchise needs right now.

Exciting times.

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